Thick rough, fast greens await at Brunswick Golf Club

It’s been 20 years since the Maine Am was held at Brunswick Golf Club, as will be the case this week for the event’s 98th rendition. And the last time it was there, it was Mark Plummer who ended up walking away with the title.

Surely, the memories for the Manchester resident and Augusta Country Club member will be thick when he steps up to the first tee for today’s first round, right?

“To be honest with you, that was a long time ago,” Plummer said, laughing. “I don’t have that many (memories). I don’t recall that much about it.”

Things can get hazy over 20 years and a collection of 13 Maine Am titles during a sparkling amateur career. But Plummer was indeed the last to conquer Brunswick, and the 65-year-old acknowledged that it’s a reassuring notion.

“Yeah, a little bit,” he said. “I’ve played the golf course a lot of times and I like the golf course. I’m comfortable with it.”

Many won’t be. An effort dating to last spring to prepare Brunswick for this tournament has turned the 119-year-old course into one that will be pleasant to look at but dangerous to play for anyone not on top of their games. The fairways are lush, but surrounded by rough that has received extra fertilizer, been left untrimmed for a week and will be a thick hassle for wayward drivers. The greens are fast, rolling between an 11 and 12 on the stimpmeter, according to Brunswick director of golf A.J. Kavanaugh.

“It was playing quite difficult (in 1997),” Kavanaugh said. “I think Mark won it at either 1-over par or it was right around even par, which sometimes you see these players shoot lights-out, but it wasn’t the case 20 years ago. I have a feeling it’ll probably be the same story this year.”

There will be a handful of holes with particularly tough layouts as well. The 13th hole (normally the fourth, but all tournament rounds will start on the back nine) is a par-3 at 215 yards with water on the right. The par-3 second hole has been stretched from 180 to 198 yards, thanks to a brand-new tee box being unveiled for this tournament, and the 15th hole is a par-4 at a daunting 460-470 yards from the Maine Am tees.

“Holes 13, 14 and 15 will be almost like the Amen Corner of the tournament,” Kavanaugh said. “(Hole No. 15) will be a game-changing hole throughout the week.”

Still, Brunswick’s layout of about 6,700 yards is not particularly imposing, and while the aforementioned holes will reward the longer hitters, there are enough reachable par-5s and short holes to give players relying more on their accuracy and short games a chance to score as well as the long hitters.

“You don’t have to be an extremely long player off the tee,” said Pittsfield’s Gavin Dugas, who plays at Husson University and out of JW Parks Golf Course. “You don’t need driver on every hole.”

Dugas played the course Monday and complimented its condition, but acknowledged it will be challenging. The rough is difficult, he said, and approach shot placement will be key.

“The greens are really big, so you can get some difficult putts out there,” he said. “I would say ball placement off the tee and into the green is huge.”

With those factors — some long holes, but a shorter course — in play, golfers of all approaches have a chance, creating a sense of parity and list of contenders that’s enhanced even further by the absence of defending champion Matt Hutchins, now in Florida.

“There’s a whole bunch of them,” Plummer said. “There’s probably any one of 15 guys that could win it.”

Dugas, who finished tied for fifth last year, is a player to watch, part of a wave of talented younger players that includes Cole Anderson (who tied for 16th last year, is a junior at Camden Hills and will play at Florida State), Reese McFarlane (who tied for 26th last year and plays at UNC-Wilmington), Will Kannegieser (who tied for 16th, finished runner-up in the match play championship at Brunswick last year and plays at Williams), Alex Viola (a member at Brunswick who tied for 20th last year) and Gavin’s brother Eric.

There is also a steady group of veteran players that plan on making a run for the title. It includes Samoset Resort’s Ricky Jones, who was the runner-up to Hutchins last year and Webhannet’s Joe Alvarez (tied for seventh), as well as mid-20s golfers Andrew Slattery (tied for 12th) and Mike Doran (tied for 34th), both out of Sable Oaks.

And then there’s the other name nobody teeing up tomorrow is ready to write off.

“You can’t count Mark Plummer out of it,” Gavin Dugas said. “He’s going to be up there.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

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Twitter: @dbonifantMTM